2016 Anthology Workshop

It’s been over two weeks since I got back from the Anthology Workshop. I meant to do a write-up about it before this, but I caught some kind of crud on the flight home (best as I can tell, looking at the likely incubation period) and I’ve only just gotten over the hacking and sniffling. I hate trying to sleep when my sinuses are clogged up; I think the sleep deprivation is worse than the actual hacking and sniffling. πŸ˜›

Anyway. Great workshop as always. I only sold one story (an SF mystery to John Helfers for an anthology called No Humans Allowed,) but I had a great time anyway, and learned a lot. I had a chance to talk to a bunch of folks, get to know some new people and some people who’ve been around, but we just never had a chance to really sit down and chat before.

The whiteboard John built his TOC on. My story’s on the right, in darker marker; it was a “Hold” at first, and he decided to add it at the end, when he was filling in stories to make his wordcount.

We wrote stories ahead of time, as always. About 45 attendees wrote about 250 stories, totalling 1.1 million words of fiction. The reading was like a tidal wave, seriously. We’re supposed to be learning to read like editors — who definitely do not read every word of every story that’s submitted — but it’s hard when you’re dealing with quality this high. If this were open-submission slush, most stories could be rejected after a paragraph of two. That’s not the case here. This is a pro-level, invite-only workshop, and people who attend are ridiculously good at this stuff.

Six of the editors — John Helfers, Kerrie Hughes, Kris Rusch, Mark Leslie (aka Mark the Kobo Guy), Kevin Anderson and Rebecca Moesta — had established books they were reading for. We got guidelines for one book per week we were writing, and had a week (or a bit less) to write a story in accordance with the guidelines and get it in. Dean Smith was the odd guy out this year; he read all the stories and had to put together an anthology out of the ones the six other editors didn’t choose, coming up with a set of stories that created some kind of theme as he went. He ended up with a bunch of stories on the theme of Hard Choices, and he had to fight a few of the other editors for some of those stories.

It was fun to watch. πŸ™‚ If the editor for whom a story was specifically written doesn’t want it, any other editor who thinks it’d fit their book really well can steal it. All the editors with established books had dibs over poor Dean, who often found himself wanting a story, but standing in line behind two or even three other people. By the time he put his TOC together on the last day, he say the process had been a lot harder than he’d expected. I definitely wouldn’t want to have to do it, although watching him do it was educational.

Most of the workshop was spent watching and listening as the editors went through the stories one by one, evaluating, disagreeing, arguing. There were a lot of WTF?? expressions scattered through the week as one or more editors loved a story that one or more other editors hated. Discussion got pretty heated once or twice. In the middle of all of this, Kris reminded us that this was because the stories were all very good. If this were a beginner workshop, where all or most of the attendees were still learning how to write, the editors would all agree. Obvious flaws would stick out to everyone. In this group, everyone can write, so the disagreements and arguments were all a matter of individual editors’ taste. Even the common disagreements that sounded like craft issues — like Kris and Dean insisting that a lot of stories had “no setting” (since they’re both really aware of setting) while John and Kerrie often loved those stories and thought they had just the right amount of setting, or that the characters and plot were so interesting they hadn’t noticed or didn’t care that there wasn’t much setting — were really matters of taste. There are readers like Kris and Dean, and there are readers like John and Kerrie.

And that’s the point. Just because one editor, or even five editors, rejects your story, that doesn’t mean it sucks. It might just mean it wasn’t to that editor’s (or those editors’) taste. Keep trying. Some of my stories that didn’t sell would’ve sold to one of the other editors if they’d been editing that particular volume. Which is the point. Keep going. Too many writers get a rejection or three, decide the story sucks and stop sending it out. Don’t do that!

As we’ve done before, we had sign-up lunches in small groups with most of the editors, and a few other subject matter experts, like Christy Fifield, who writes fun cozy mysteries, and is a hotel Controller in her day job; she’s a great source of info for finance and accounting and such. We also had an audio expert, and someone who writes comics for major publishers, for folks who are interested in that. I went out with John, Dean and Christy, and had a great time with each of them, and the other writers who signed up to go with.

Other days we grabbed lunch with whoever was available, and there’s plenty of talent in the room and lots of brains to pick. Dinner was also chaotic in a fun way, and I hung with a lot of different people at various times. Sometimes it’s fun sticking with a few friends — I usually do that at SF conventions, that sort of thing — but at this kind of event, the more people you can hang out with and get to know, the better. The networking at these events is worth the workshop fee all by itself.

Allyson, the Publisher at WMG, announced that they’re starting up a companion line of anthologies called Fiction River Presents. These will be reprints of stories that’ve already been in Fiction River, remixed in various ways. Fiction River is starting its fourth year now, and a lot of people only heard about it recently. Doing the reprint volumes is a good way of giving folks different mixes of stories, so if one theme from the past didn’t appeal to you, maybe another will and you’ll see some stories you’d have otherwise missed.

From the WMG site: “Appropriately, the first volume, Debut Writers’ Showcase, commemorates first sales by up-and-coming authors. Future volumes will revolve around themes such as family, thrillers, offbeat stories, and Readers’ Choice.”

My first professional sale was “Staying Afloat” in How to Save the World, and that story will be in the Showcase volume.

Othere random bits I noted down during the workshop:

Short fiction is an entryway to your work for people who’ve never read any of your other stuff.

Anthologies are an exception to BookBub’s one-book-per-author-at-any-one-time rule. you can only have one novel up at a time, but you can have multiple multi-author anthologies, or a novel and an anthology, or whatever combination.

If you’re looking to build up your sales ranking on sites like Amazon, advertise sales on multiple sites in succession rather than all at once. Start with BookBub and then go through others week by week. BookBub will raise your book up the ranks, and the smaller lists will keep it up there.

A workshop attendee who writes romances puts out a new short story each month. He makes it free on his blog for a week, with a buy button on the page. He sells a few during the free week, then when the story comes off of free, sales shoot up. He sells the e-books for $2.99 and paperbacks for $5.99, and he gets bookstore/warehouse sales; he sees batches of 10-15 of the paperbacks selling. He does this once a month, and now makes a third of his income off of short fiction this way.

“Free” is the most popular search term on Kobo, always, no matter what else is going on or what hot book’s been released.

Writers are generally pretty awful at writing our author bios. I’ll admit I hate doing it, and the standard one I use isn’t great. An author bio should talk about your writing. It doesn’t matter that you have five cats unless there are cats prominently in your work. It doesn’t matter that you like to garden or knit unless your characters are gardening, or some detail about historical knitting is a plot point in your story. What do you write? What have you published? Have you won any awards? Or been nominated? Made any significant bestseller lists? When writing your author bio, remember — not too long, not too short, not too modest. Most of us seem to have a problem with that last bit. πŸ˜›

If your story is set during a big, horrific event, it’s hard to get your readers to hang on to it. If you deal with it head-on, it’s better to deal with a smaller part and make it representative of the larger events, with a close emotional grab. Trying to deal with the whole, sweeping thing will probably require a lot of tell-tell-tell narrative, which can get boring. Keep the reader down IN the events, focused on a representative character. Also, use little details, like in the middle of a huge event that’s caused shootings or protests or whatever, there are going to be closed streets. Have your characters deal with that, to make the larger events have an impact on their lives in a given moment.

Make your manuscript readable. Small fonts are bad. Courier is iffy.

Make sure your name and the page number are in the header of every page, because some editors still print things out to read. If they drop a stack of pages, or they go for coffee and the printer spits the pages for a dozen stories all over the floor, the editor’s not going to bother to play literary archaeologist to figure out which pages belong to your story and what order they go in.

Give your story a significant file name. Some markets call out file name formats, in which case follow that. But if a market doesn’t specify, don’t call it “Story.doc” or “Fantasy.doc” or whatever.

Story titles should be memorable. On the one hand, that means that calling something “Aftermath” or “The Game” or “Conflict” probably isn’t a great idea because that kind of title doesn’t call a particular story to mind. On the other hand, words and names in your title should be reasonably familiar and pronounceable. You want readers to be able to talk about your story to their friends, and editors to be able to remember your title when thinking about their up-coming book or issue, or when talking with their staff. They can’t do that if they can’t remember or pronounce your alien name, or your transliterated Arabic phrase. Put the linguistic fireworks in the story, not in the title.

First person can be very distancing because the reader is NOT the person doing whatever

There’s a convention of a type of mystery fiction by people who don’t know police procedure perfectly and that’s fine. You’re just aiming for a different audience of readers than the folks who are experts on procedure and make that a major focus of the narrative.

Put something in the body of the e-mail when you sub a story, or even just edits. Blank e-mails with just an attachment end up in the spam filter. Also, you’re trying to foster a relationship with the editor, so say hi, looking forward to working with you, something. Not a Christmas letter, but a line or two.

If a published story gets picked up for a reprint, gets into a Year’s Best, nominated for an award, whatever, let the original editor know. They might want to use it in their marketing, and even if they don’t, it’s a fuzzy to them too, just to hear about it.

If you’re writing about one of a series of events, what’s special about this occurrence, this character? Why are you writing about this particular one and not the previous one, or the next one, or the first one? Let the reader know why this person/thing/occurrence has a story written about it.

We were talking in the workshop about the layoffs at Random Penguin, which happened while we were there. Someone there who knows people at PRH said that Nora Roberts’s editor was one of the people layed off, which… seriously? How could anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together for mutual warmth argue that that particular editor wasn’t pulling in enough money for the business to justify their salary?? o_O So when word came out about a week later that Ms. Roberts had taken a hike up the road to St. Martins, I wasn’t at all surprised. That was a ridiculously expensive round of layoffs for Random Penguin; I’m sure someone was called to explain WTF they were thinking, or will be when the company start to feel the lack of Ms. Roberts’s sales in their bottom line.

We had a funny thing happen on the way home. I rode back to Portland with Lyn, who was driving, and Laura. We stopped at Laura’s hotel to drop her off, and ran into Brenda in the parking lot. Brenda had dropped Michele off at the airport and decided, spur of the moment, to stay at that hotel herself. Lyn had planned to drive farther before stopping, but with two other writers from the workshop there, she decided what the heck, that she’d stay there too, so she ran in to get a room. I think she and Laura ended up sharing. I had a room at another hotel a couple miles away, and was having dinner there that night with a writer friend who lives in Portland. Under other circumstances, though, it would’ve been pretty awesome to have one more “workshop” night at the hotel. Or better yet, if they’d all been in mine — it’s the hotel I always stay at when I’m flying out of Portland, and my husband got a great deal on a suite. I had a for-real suite, with a main room and a separate bedroom, and my main room had a full size dining table and six chairs. We could’ve stayed up for hours gabbing. πŸ™‚ Maybe next year.

I had a great conversation with Amelia, and a decent flight home the next morning. I came down with the creeping crud a couple of days later, but the trip itself went wonderfully well. I’m already signed up for next year, and there’s still space. If you write short fiction, the Anthology Workshop is an awesome experience, and one I can’t recommend strongly enough.

Thanks to Dean and Allyson for organizing the event, all the editors for helping make it happen, and all the attendees for making it rock. So long as they keep throwing these workshops, I’ll keep going.

Angie

Workshop Stuff

I went kind of radio silent for a few weeks there — sorry about that. I have things to post about, but I’m not going to dump it all at once. First is the Anthology Workshop I went to from late February through the first week in March. Great stuff as always. Anyone who has any interest in writing short fiction should try to get into one of these workshops some year. I think the 2016 Anthology Workshop still has space, or at least it’s not marked as full yet. Click through and scroll down.

For anyone going “Huh?” right now, the Anthology Workshop is an intense week-and-a-bit on the Oregon coast with about forty writers and half a dozen editors. We get six anthology assignments ahead of time — submission guidelines, like you’d see for any anthology — starting right after the first of the year. Each assignment has a deadline a week away, and then we get the next one, boom-boom-boom, six stories due on six successive Sundays. You’re not required to write for every book — you can pick the ones you want — but why wouldn’t you? This is a great opportunity to submit work and then listen to a bunch of editors arguing over your stories. Oh, and possibly make some sales to Fiction River, as a nice bonus to eight days of learning.

Most of the workshop days are devoted to going over stories, one book’s worth per day. They start at one end of the row of editors at the front of the room, and each editor says whether they’d have bought the story or not, and why or why not. The last editor is the one (or occasionally a pair, editing a book as a team) who’s actually buying stories for the live anthology. There’s a white board for each book, where BUY and MAYBE stories are listed, along with author and wordcount. Sometimes all the editors agree one way or the other, but usually not. The discussions back and forth between editors of differing opinions can be entertaining, and are always educational. That’s really what it’s all about — seeing how and why different professional editors can and do disagree over a story, occasionally with snark or sarcasm involved. When we’re done with all the stories, the editor(s) look at how many BUY stories they have, and if there isn’t enough wordcount, they go through the MAYBE stories to finish building the TOC. Watching them do this is another great educational opportunity.

So each day, the editors go over one book’s worth of stories. I always write for all the books, and so do a lot of the other attendees. Before this year, if a story was passed up, we were encouraged to sub it to some other pro market right away, but this time we were told not to. Good thing, too.

The six books we wrote for were, in scheduled publication order:

Hidden in Crime, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, a historical crime volume
Visions of the Apocalypse, edited by John Helfers, a book of stories taking place during (not just before or after) the end of the world
Last Stand, edited by Dean Wesley Smith and Felicia Fredlund, stories about characters making a final stand, and no, it’s not all they-died-in-the-end stories πŸ™‚
Superpowers, edited by Rebecca Moesta, a YA anthology about teenagers learning to cope with some kind of super power
Haunted, edited by Kerrie Hughes, an anthology of haunting stories
Pulse Pounders: Adrenaline, edited by Kevin J. Anderson, a book of short thrillers

Click through and scroll down a bit to see the up-coming anthology covers. Last I heard, they’re planning to find new art for the Last Stand book, but the others are pretty set except for names on the covers.

I initially sold a story to Haunted, which is cool; I’ve worked with Kerrie before and am looking forward to working with her again. I missed with John’s Apocalypse book, which was disappointing; I’ve sold stories to him the last two years, but this time I didn’t quite hit what he was looking for. Dean hated my story for Last Stand, but Felicia liked it a lot. I honestly wasn’t expecting to make it in there, but after going over all the stories, they did some horse trading between themselves and Dean got one he wanted that Felicia hadn’t really cared for, and Felicia got mine. πŸ™‚ Kris teetered a bit on mine, but it didn’t quite make it, which was disappointing, but I’ve never sold her anything before, so I was almost expecting it. Then on the last workshop day, she announced that someone not in the workshop who’d been invited to submit to the book, and who’d wanted a 10K word space saved for them, couldn’t submit something after all, leaving Kris with a 10K word hole. She bought two extra stories after all, one of them mine, woot!

Now this year, there was an extra person sitting up front with the editors. Mark Leslie Lefebvre, AKA Mark the Kobo guy, was a student in the workshop last year. He stepped in and offered some Kobo support when a couple of editors had more stories they Really Really Wanted to buy, but which they didn’t have room/budget for. Two of last year’s volumes have special Kobo editions with three more stories in them, which is awesome, so thanks to Mark for that. But this year, Mark was sitting up front. Huh?

Okay, there had to be a reason. Last year, there was some talk about how, if the special Kobo editions were a success and sold well, they might do special editions of all the books this year. But as days went by, they weren’t buying extra stories, and there was no mention of a Kobo edition. Huh. But there was Mark up there, doing the Yes-Maybe-No thing with all the stories. My guess was that he was doing a stealth book, his own anthology, and I was right. πŸ™‚ They went through all the stories that Mark or one (or more) of the other editors had loved, but either didn’t have room in their book, or it was a story for someone else’s book that didn’t get bought. We had a whiteboard for each book (Dean and company screwed each day’s board up onto the wall somewhere in the room after that day’s workshop was over) and then Mark had a couple more where he assembled his picks, plus all the unbought picks from the other editors. Hashmarks showed which stories had a lot of love from the editors, even if the one it was written for didn’t buy it. That last round of TOC building was great, especially for the folks who got last minute surprise buys.

There’s some great stuff in there, stories I’d have bought if I’d been one of the editors. The book’s not on the Fiction River site, but they were calling it Editors’ Cut at the workshop. Fiction River doesn’t always stick to just one genre in each volume, but Mark’s book will have more variety than usual. Should be great for anyone who just loves short fiction.

Like last year, we had sign-ups to eat lunch with the editors and Allyson (the publisher of WMG), and I went out with a few people. And there were great discussions in, around, and after workshop sessions. Some notes:

If you love a trope that nobody’s writing anymore, other people will love it too, so write it to fill that hole. This is especially an opportunity for folks indie publishing — don’t let New York tell you Horror is dead, or Westerns, or romantic vampires, or kids finding weird objects while playing, or whatever you’re into.

Past a certain level of craftsmanship, whether a story sells or not isn’t really about quality, it’s about taste. Don’t let a rejection, or a bunch of rejections, discourage you. If you’re pretty sure a story is well written, keep subbing it, or indie publish it.

If you’re doing a punch story, a short story with a quick hit at the end, do a double-punch — two hits in quick succession — to make it even more powerful.

When you’re writing for submission, readability is key. No 10pt fonts, no weird fonts, don’t try to be “special.” Try to be readable. If the editor notices your formatting, you blew it.

Define what “success” means to you before you plan a promo campaign. You have to know what you want so you can tell if your campaign was successful and worth the resources you put into it.

80% of people who download a free book won’t read it.

You need at least 3-5 books in a series for perma-free on the first book to be of any benefit. (And there’s some disagreement about whether perma-free is ever a good idea. Temporary free promotions might be better.)

Amazon categories — use Fiction, General and Fiction, [Genre] as your two categories. Then your keywords will get you into other categories under those. There are a bazillion categories under Fiction, General that you can only get in through Fiction, General plus keywords

When you sub to a literary market, don’t label the story by genre in your cover letter, and don’t note genre credits. For literary markets, no previous credits are better than genre credits.

Never use the term “self-published” — use small press, independently published, etc. The stigma is still there, so don’t get it on you.

A good title will sell a story before you’ve even written it (in tradpub). It’ll also sell a story to readers.

Stories about the everyday tragedies of human life need to rise above the everyday tragedies of human life. They’re realistic, but a reader needs more of a reason to read about that particular one. Usually it’s not something anyone outside the main character’s family and friends would care about. [Writer]’s story worked because their character was heroic and had a humorous thread in their voice about what was going on with them. Also, you need to balance the tragic event with being an entertainer. The reader has to want to read that story — they’ll want to read it because it’s entertaining. What about the story and the characters makes the reader want to hang with them, especially since most people aren’t keen to spend time with their own family and friends who are horribly sick, or whatever, much less a stranger?

To transcend the horrible mundanity, maybe the character does something different, something heroic. Or the story could have an awesome voice.

If you’re editing an anthology, or putting together a collection of your own short work, the gut-wrenchingly emotional story should be at the end, or maybe in the middle, but most definitely not right up in the beginning.

When building your TOC, figure about 1/3 of readers will read the book front to back, in order.

Don’t start a story with the character’s first and last name — nametag opening. It has to be up front quick, but not the first two words.

Kris’s technique for analyzing someone else’s book/story — Take a book you never want to read again, underline setting words with a different color for each sense. Then go through and color each word for how it supports the story, setting or character or plot. The idea is to load the technique into your head so it filters to your subconscious and five stories [of your own] later you’ll start using it when you write. It’s not deliberate; it comes out of the subconscious as you write.

Dean’s technique — Take a book and type the opening in your manuscript format to get the feel for what the writer was doing word-by-word. You’ll start realizing what the writer is doing and how they do it.

Whenever you get comments about too many details, it’s always the writer putting the setting details in (the writer’s narrative voice) rather than filtering it all through the POV character’s opinion. Everything should be filtered through the character, which makes the words build character as well as setting. If you feed setting in through the POV character, readers won’t notice all the setting coming in; it reads very quickly.

If anyone notices your setting in the beginning, you fucked up.

Don’t use a series name in the title of a story in an anthology because too many people will see that it’s a series story and skip it.

Stories are circles, and the end has to reflect back on the beginning. If an ending isn’t working, it’s probably because there’s a problem with the beginning, or because the ending doesn’t reflect on the beginning.

On a crime story being resolved — the reader needs to know who committed the crime and that the story is over. A mystery/crime story puts order onto chaos. If the story is noir, the reader needs to know that order will never be imposed on the chaos. If it’s not a mystery per se, they might not catch the crook, but in any case the reader needs to have that info.

This isn’t everything, but it’s most of what I had in my Notes file on my laptop. This is an awesome workshop, and I’d be taking it even if I never sold anything. In fact, the first time I went, the anthologies weren’t “live,” and nobody sold anything; we were all there for the learning. This is a wonderful experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone with any interest in publishing short fiction.

Angie

Workshop and Sales and Business

So the first chunk of the year was pretty hectic, and I’m just getting back to normal. I wrote six stories in six weeks starting in early January, for Dean and Kris’s anthology workshop. The way this works is, there are six professional editors, each editing an anthology that’ll be brought out as part of the Fiction River line. Writers who’ve signed up get guidelines (book title, length requirements, theme, sometimes more info depending on the editor) and deadlines. The deadlines were one per week for six weeks, each Sunday, midnight Pacific time, no late subs accepted, no excuses, period. A lot more students got all six stories in than any of the instructors expected, although considering how Dean pounds the pulpit of getting your butt in the seat and your hands on the keyboard and doing the work, about how writing faster means spending more time writing not just typing faster, of how to make it as a pro you need a good work ethic (see previous about spending more time writing), I’m not sure why they were surprised. πŸ™‚ Personally, I was kind of afraid to sub fewer than six stories and then show my face at the workshop, so I didn’t. Anyway.

The workshop was pretty awesome, although hectic. We all read all the subbed stories, which totalled about 250. So between writing for six weeks, then frantically reading up to and through most of the workshop, I did very little else for the first two months and change of this year. Once we were all settled in Lincoln City and got rolling, the way it worked was that the editors sat up at the front of the room, with the students in rows, sort of like a college classroom, but with rectangular two-person tables instead of those awful little desk-chair things. Lots of laptops and notebooks for taking notes.

We did one book per day. All the editors commented on each story, with the editor who was actually editing the book going last. Other editors either pretended they were editing that particular anthology, or in Kris’s case she pretended she was still editing F&SF, and in Dean’s case he pretended he was still editing Pulphouse Magazine. They went through the stories one at a time, each editor saying whether they read all the way through and why or why not, whether the story hit any of their reader cookies or anti-cookies[1], and whether they’d buy it. The final (actual) editor did the same, but if they said “Buy” they actually were making an offer. Or sometimes they held a story to the end, then looked over all the held stories and made final buy/no-buy decisions while building their TOC on the white board in front of the class. That’s always fun to watch, and instructive.

The point of having all the editors talking about all the stories is to show us that editors disagree. I think we all know this on an intellectual level, but still, there’s a strong tendency in Writerland to assume that because a story gets a form rejection right off the bat, the story must suck. Some writers send a story out once or twice and never again, convinced it’s garbage because it didn’t get bought right away, or because it only got form rejections. (Kris, a bestselling writer, an award winner in multiple genres, got three form rejections just that week. Which is a pretty rude thing for an editor to do to a name writer, but still, it happens to everyone.)

Actually seeing the editors not only disagreeing but actively arguing with one another makes quite an impact, though. Three editors tried to convince Dean to buy the story I’d written for his book. They failed, but they all (including Dean) were pretty sure I’d sell it somewhere else. (It’s sitting in an SF magazine editor’s queue as I type.) Three editors tried to convince Kris to buy the story I wrote for her book. They failed, but again, everyone agreed it’d probably sell. (And it’s sitting in a mystery magazine editor’s queue.) People were still needling Dean about the story of mine that he’d passed up days later. Kris said they’d talked about it at home while they were reading submissions, but she couldn’t convince him, and neither could all three professional editors when they ganged up on him in class.

Now, all this was a wonderful balm for my disappointment at not making this or that sale, but the point is that three professional editors would have bought that story if they were the one editing that particular anthology. We all know that different editors produce different anthologies, that two editors doing similar books with the same or similar themes will put together books that feel different, have a different theme or a different point of view, and therefore a different list of stories. We all know that. But seeing it playing out in front of you, sometimes with raised voices or pointed jokes or annoyed scowls or incredulous expressions? That makes you feel it, not just know it, and I think that after watching the editors arguing over stories one is less likely to think, Yeah, I know a lot of stories just had to find the right editor after fifty submissions, but MY story sucks.

Watching an editor narrow their holds down to the final roster is instructive as well. I imagine most of us have had the experience of being told in a rejection letter, “I had enough great stories for four books, but unfortunately I can only publish one,” or something similar. It’s easy to think, Yeah, but my story wasn’t quite great enough, or maybe, The editor’s just being nice, letting me down easy. But actually watching an editor agonize over the decisions makes it clear that this is hard. One of the editors, I thought she was about to start crying a number of times, and particularly when she was letting down people whose held stories didn’t quite make it.

One difference I noticed from last year was that there weren’t as many invites. Last year each book was at least half full by the time the workshop convened. Name writers were invited to submit, presumably to get some names on the covers that’d help sell the books. (How to Save the World, the book I sold a story to, has David Gerrold and Laura Resnick on the cover, among others.) That makes sense; anthologies are a tough sell anyway, and it’s clear why Kris and Dean, as the series editors and owners of the publishing company behind Fiction River, would want to give their new anthology series the best launch possible. I was expecting the same thing this year, actually, but there were very few invites this time.

Which isn’t to say there won’t be any “names” in the books. Aside from Kris and Dean, who write stories for all the anthologies, Lisa Silverthorne and Ron Collins are regulars at the anthology workshop; their names regularly appear on the covers of SF magazines. And I spent the workshop week sitting next to Cat Rambo. (I managed not to ever fangirl her, because I am not a complete dork one hundred percent of the time. [cough]) But they reported that the series is doing better than they’d expected, reviews have been good, and they’re gearing up for more publicity and some experimentation.

One of the experiments came about during one of the aforementioned sessions of agonizing over the final buy list on a book. There were three more stories Kevin Anderson, who’s editing Pulse Pounders — basically a collection of short thriller type stories — wanted to buy, but he didn’t have the budget. Mark LeFevre, the Kobo Writing Life guy, was also attending the workshop. He cornered Kevin, Kris and Dean during a break and made an offer on behalf of Kobo to help fund the three extra stories for a special expanded Kobo edition of the book. There’ll be an expanded edition of Kris’s book too, Past Crimes, a collection of historical mysteries. He was actually willing to do Kobo special editions of all the books, but Kris and Dean want to start slowly, with the two books that they think have the widest audience. The reasoning is that because this is something new, they want to give it the best chance to succeed. If they do special editions of all the books and some don’t sell well, it might be taken as a failure of the expanded edition concept, rather than just the individual books selling slowly. They want to give the concept the best chance to succeed, so it can become a thing that other editors/publishers and other e-book vendors would consider doing.

Another new thing is that they’re filling and scheduling books a lot farther out, so that they can get ARCs done and available in time to send them out to the major review sites the requisite 5-8 months in advance. For that reason, the two books I sold stories to won’t be out until 2015.

Oh, right, I sold a couple of stories. πŸ™‚ John Helfers, who bought my story for How to Save the World last year, is editing a book called Recycled Pulp this year. It’s a cool idea — he created a bunch of ultra-pulpy sounding titles, and we had to write modern, non-pulpy stories that fit the titles. Each writer who wanted to sub for that book sent in three numbers between 1 and 250, and we got back three of the titles off the list. We could write to whichever title we wanted. My story is called “The Crypt of the Metal Ghouls,” and it was a lot of fun to write.

Kerrie Hughes is editing Alchemy and Steam, which is pretty much what it says on the tin. Kerrie really likes alchemy — it’s one of her reader cookies — and she wanted stories that were a blend of alchemy and steampunk. I wrote a story called “The Rites of Zosimos,” with plot points based on some actual concepts a Greek alchemist named Zosimos of Panopolis wrote about. She liked it a lot and it’ll be fun working with her. And I think I might get a series out of the setting/characters. [ponder]

Alchemy and Steam is scheduled for April of 2015, and Recycled Pulp is scheduled for December of 2015.

And I might have some work lined up for later this year — more info 1) when/if it happens, and 2) when I can talk about it. There’s awesome networking at these workshops, though.

Random notes from the workshop discussions, both during the week around stories and on the last day when we did break-out sessions with experts in various areas:

Kris told some stories about crazy-ass things writers do to get an editor’s attention. Everyone’s heard the story of the guy who sent his manuscript in a pizza box, with a pizza in it, right? With a note saying something like, “Thought you’d enjoy a snack while you read…?” I heard that online back in the 80s. Well, Kris had a better one. When she was editing F&SF, she’d head down to the Post Office regularly to pick up bins of mail, and she got a note to go pick something up at the window. The Postmaster came up holding an envelope dangling at arm’s length. The envelope was black and covered with actual (not fake) cobwebs, and had actual dead spiders glued to it. O_O The Postmaster asked her, “Do you want this?” Kris sort of stared at it and said, “No.” Postmaster said, “Good,” and went to throw it away. Seriously, who thinks that kind of thing is a good idea?

Writers are usually wrong about what genre their story is. If you have something out in submission or indie pubbed that’s not selling, and you’re pretty sure it’s a good, well-written story, that might be why. Have a few people read it cold, then ask them what genre they think it is. You might be sending it to the wrong editors, or have it tagged as the wrong genre/subgenre at the vendor sites. Genre is a marketing tool, so if you mess that up, everything else about your marketing of that story collapses.

Ever notice how SF in books and magazines is such a tiny genre compared with SF in movies and TV shows? SF is huge everywhere except in the books and magazines where it begain. Originally, SF stories all had basically the same endings — science triumphed and the good guys always won. Then in the seventies, SF sort of collectively decided to go all literary, and a story could have pretty much any ending, including negative or depressing or bleak ones. Genre readers like knowing approximately how the story is going to end, though, so SF has lost a lot of readers, both people deciding they didn’t like the new stuff and leaving, and older readers dying without being replaced by new readers. (I can confirm that the attendees at SF conventions centered on book/magazine fiction are greying; I’m probably on the low end of average age at most of those cons, and I’m 50. Whereas media SF conventions and comic book conventions are full of kids in their teens and twenties.) Literary fans expect their endings to be variable, so they read literary and like it. Most SF fans, though, expect science to triumph and the good guys to win, and since the seventies, fewer stories delivered that. So most SF fans watch the movies and TV shows but don’t read the books or magazines. Most fans of book/magazine SF don’t consider the TV/movie fans to be “real” SF fans, but come on, seriously? [sigh] There are still stories with that kind of ending, but you’re not guaranteed to find one if you pick an SF book at random off the shelf. In trying to be literary, SF is slowly strangling itself. (I’ve heard discussions on the convention side that in a generation or two, the traditional, fan-run convention for people who read SF will vanish as its attendees — and the people running the conventions — age and die. Same thing, from the readers’ perspective instead of the writers’.) The take-away from this discussion, IMO, is that if you want to build a good fan base with your SF, and attract younger readers, write stories where science triumphs and the good guys win. Or if that’s not what you’re into, that’s fine but be aware that your reader pool is shrinking.

Genre is moving toward being an author name rather than a traditional genre category. (Dean is pulling all his different genres, written under a pile of pseuds, most of whom nobody knows are him, back under his Dean Wesley Smith name.) You can make this work, especially going indie, but it’ll take longer to build your reader base if you’re writing all over the genre map. Although in reality, if you do want to write across various genres, it’s going to take you a while anyway. It takes a certain number of books/stories — individual titles — to hit a tipping point where your discoverability starts fueling itself. This number, which seems to be between 25 and 50, depending on a lot of factors including luck, is per genre/name. So if you write SF/F, romance and thrillers, for example, it’ll take 25-50 titles in each genre to get your sales and visibility in that genre to take off, if you’re publishing under three names. It’s looking like publishing three different genres all under one name doesn’t change that very much; a lot of readers still read only one genre, although that’s slowly changing.

(Related story — I was talking to a writer friend who knew a third writer who was complaining that his career hadn’t taken off, his sales were abysmal, he needed an agent because he had to have the career help. [sigh] I poked around and saw that he had three pen names, each with one book published. [headdesk] Well, no wonder he hadn’t taken off! Three books under one name would still make him a newbie and almost invisible so far as the readers are concerned. The way he’s been doing it, though, from the POV of the readers he’s three newbie writers, each of whom has only one book out. No wonder readers hadn’t noticed him. Same thing, though — visibility is about volume, about having enough titles out there that readers have a chance of tripping over one and then finding the rest.)

Speaking about short fiction, once an editor starts buying your stuff, show some loyalty to that editor. If you sell an SF story to a magazine, send that magazine all your SF stories first, give that editor first refusal on your stuff. Particularly if you’re writing a series, always send new stories in that series to the same editor who’s been buying the series. Offering a series story first to someone else, a different magazine or an anthology, is rude and unprofessional.

When you set up your business account for your writing income (you did that, right? especially if you’re indie pubbing?) refuse overdraft protection. If someone hacks your account and overdraws it by a few thousand, the bank will be happy to give them that money, then not only charge you that amount but also the overdraft fee.

Be careful about (book) contracts from British publishers, which are reportedly even worse than book contracts from American publishers.

John saw a contract which said that if the copyright laws changed in any way in the future, you automatically agree to it, in perpetuity. It’s unenforcable, but would still be a pain to deal with.

Some setting details are what Kris calls phony setting. So frex., if you say your characters are in “a renovated church,” each reader is going to have a different image in their head, which are all probably going to be different from the image in your head. Actually describe the setting so the picture in the reader’s head is at least close to the one in your own. That prevents sudden jolts later on when you refer to something that doesn’t at all match what the reader was imagining.

The Cricket magazines (which pay wonderfully well) have a horrible contract, but if you tell them you can’t sign it, they’ll send you the good one.

Hard fantasy is like hard SF, but the fantasy is the tech — it’s explained, works consistently, and has the nuts-and-bolts feel that hard SF has, if the world actually worked on magic. (I actually write a lot of hard fantasy and didn’t know it. πŸ™‚ )

We talked some about how Audible was lowering its royalty from 50% to 40%. Dean says that’s a good thing because their business model is sustainable now. Also, they’re dropping the dollar per sale that they paid directly to the writers — circumventing the publisher — whenever an audiobook was sold. They did that to force the publishers to clean up their accounting. A writer who got $X whenever they sold X audiobooks knew that they’d better see X audiobook sales on their royalty statement from their publisher. I wish the e-book vendors would/could do something similar and force the publishers to clean up their e-book accounting the same way.

We talked some about manuscript formatting, and how italics has replaced underlining in modern manuscript formats. Although if a market still demands paper submissions, assume they’re also old-fashioned in their formatting, and use underlines.

The choice to quit the day job and go completely freelance is usually made at a point of crisis — a lost job, frex. — rather than because a reasoned decision has been made. Start thinking about what you’d do and how you’d do it. What if you lose your job next month? And can’t find another one in a month or two or six? Do you know how to gear up to get your writing paying more of the bills, or any of the bills? Having some idea of what to do and how to do it if you have to transition over to full time writing Right Now will make a horribly stressful life roll a little easier.

If/when you do go full time, cut expenses as much as you can. Protect your writing time; that’s what pays the bills. If you’re selling regularly, a cleaning lady can be a good investment. If you make $30/hour or $50/hour on your writing, it’s totally worth it to pay someone $15-$20/hour to wash dishes and vacuum and do laundry. Also mowing the lawn, pruning the trees, cleaning the pool, whatever. Protect the writing, and spend that protected time writing.

Don’t let the publishing overrun the writing; one suggestion is to set aside one day per week for doing your publishing work, formatting and covers and uploading and updating the accounting. The rest of the time, write. New words of fiction. Research isn’t writing, outlining isn’t writing, editing isn’t writing. Marketing/promo is most definitely not writing. (One of the worst things you can do is write and publish one book and then spend the next year on marketing and promo. Don’t do that. Write the next book. And the next and the next.)

One way to protect your writing time is to stay organized. Checklists are good. So are systems you can implement over and over again. Have a long-term plan so you know what you want to accomplish (including non-writing tasks, like learning to do covers, learning to format POD paperbacks, setting up and starting to collect sign-ups for a newsletter, learn/implement a more comprehensive business accounting system, take a class — larger one-time goals you want to hit) and in what order you want to do them. That way, when you find you have time/money for a larger task, you can look on your list and see what’s next, rather than have to dither around, doing “research” and making the decision over again every time it comes up. Your goals and ordered list can change, if there’s a reason, but making that list in the first place is part of your long-term planning.

Have similar plans month-to-month. List deadlines for any trad-pub books or stories you’re doing, plus goals for finishing writing on Book C, formatting on Book B, a cover for book A and uploading it to vendors P, Q and R. Monthly goals should be realistic, based on how much time and/or money you have to spend, but treating it like a business with goals and deadlines makes it that much more likely things will get done. (No, I’m not this organized yet myself.)

Schedule time to learn stuff. There’s a lot to learn if you’re going freelance, especially if you’re indie pubbing. The learning is going to take time, so plan that into your schedule. Protect the writing, but make learning something that’ll help your business a strong second priority.

You need at least 15-20 titles up, per pseudonym, before it’s worthwhile to do any marketing. (Yes, there’s a pattern here.)

Whew. That’s just hilights from what I wrote down in a notes file. There was a lot more, and I absolutely got my money’s worth. I felt the same last year when I only sold one story, and the year before when I sold none. This is an awesome workshop, and Dean is taking sign-ups for next year right now. The workshops on the coast are invitation only, but you can write to Dean and ask for an invitation. Explain your experience and your goals, and why you want to attend. I had no pro-level sales when I wrote and asked for an invite, and I got into the anthology workshop that year. It’s doable, and it’s absolutely worthwhile.

Angie, getting back into the groove

[1] A reader cookie is something you just love to see in a piece of fiction. If you’re really into Cthulu stories, then that’s a reader cookie for you. If you love stories about soldiers, or cyberpunk, or grumpy protagonists, those are reader cookies. Something you seriously dislike, bad enough that it might prevent you from enjoying a story, might even prevent you from reading the story, is an anti-cookie. If you really hate stories with a child protag, or a lot of car-mechanic-jargon-babble, or spiders, then that’s an anti-cookie. Sending an editor a story full of that individual’s anti-cookies means the story will probably be rejected, no matter how good it might otherwise be. Unless it’s absolutely stupendously fabulous in every other way.

Busy with Business

Wow, two anthology posts in a row! I’ve never done that before. I’ve been kind of busy, doing some cool things.

Early in May I attended a workshop on how to do POD books — covers, interiors, marketing and selling, with a lot of really shocking info on how the business has changed very recently. I spent the time between my April anthology post and the workshop itself fiddling with Photoshop Elements (which it turned out I didn’t need for the class πŸ˜› ) and InDesign, which is an awesome tool — once you’ve learned even the basics of ID, it becomes clear why it’s the industry standard. Once you have your art (for about fifteen dollars off a stock art site — and yes, they have art art as well as photos) you can do the whole cover, beautifully, in InDesign.

Flowing the text in is easy. Front matter goes in first, then your story or novel text; ID will create as many pages as you need, and you use master pages to set the layout. The fiddly part here is making sure the formatting works at the line- and paragraph-level. Hunting for widows (the first line of a paragraph alone at the bottom of a page), orphans (the last line of a paragraph alone at the top of a page, and widowed orphans (the last line of a paragraph, totally alone at the top of a page, with no other text on the page) can make your interior look much better. Most of these can be fixed easily by using the tracking tool on a whole paragraph at once, tightening or loosening it enough to pull a lone word or two up onto the previous line (re-flowing everything up to close the space) or to push a word or two onto the next line (pushing everything down a line) while not changing the spacing so much that someone casually reading will even notice.

InDesign is an incredibly powerful tool, and there are usually multiple ways of doing just about anything, which means it can be overwhelming at first. Having personal classroom instruction, one-to-three instruction with Allyson in small groups, and people coming around to give us one-to-one help during lab periods, was worth the cost of the workshop, and then some. The workshop was taught by Dean Wesley Smith and Allyson Longueira (Allyson is the publisher at WMG), with help during labs by a couple of local writers who are old hands at this and came to help out. Lee Allred was particularly awesome in giving assistance to all of us newbie book designers.

And really, that’s what it comes down to: the design. You can achieve the same results with other tools, but what’s important is the design. Look at other books in your genre — professionally published books, not just indie books — and see what they look like. What elements are on the cover? How are they laid out? What’s large or small? What elements are associated together, and placed near one another? Notice those little tags — “Bestselling author of Popular Book,” or “Book 3 of Author’s Cool Series” — that are too small to read in thumbnail? You still need them on your e-books. Even if they’re unreadable in an online bookseller’s catalog, they’re design elements and readers are used to seeing them, even as a little line of unreadable text, on professionally designed covers. The cover will look naked and unfinished without them.

What’s included in the front matter, and how is it laid out? What do new chapter pages look like in a novel, or new story pages in a collection or anthology? What does the spacing look like, between the headers and the text, the footers and the text, the text and the margins? If your presentation is amateurish, potential readers (buyers) will notice, even if they can’t articulate what bugs them about a particular cover or interior. New York has conditioned us to expect certain things about a professional book, and if an indie book doesn’t have all those things, or they’re not laid out the way we’re used to seeing, that’ll ping our “amateur” alarm, even if we can’t put our finger on why. Learning how to design the book, and the cover, is more important than learning to use kerning tools or feathered gradients in a particular software package. (Although you really should learn those things in whatever software you’re using.)

So before the workshop, I was playing with the software and watching instructional videos online. Then I was in Oregon for a week and a half, and a lot busier than I thought I’d be. The day I flew to Portland, I met a writer friend [waves to PD Singer] at the airport, along with a friend of hers who lives in Portland, and we went and had lunch with a few other writers in our genre who are local to Portland. I love meeting internet people in realspace, so that was very cool. After lunch, Pam and I drove out to the coast, and we roomed together for the workshop itself. We sat next to each other in class, swapping help and opinions and angst. πŸ™‚

After the workshop, we drove back to Portland and Pam dropped me off at my hotel. When I’m at these workshops, I like staying an extra night in Portland; not having to scramble to catch a plane that day means that I can flex my schedule to match that of whoever’s driving me. One of the writers we had lunch with on the way out came to my hotel that evening. [waves to Amelia Gormley.] We chatted, had dinner together, and chatted some more.

The biggest bomb dropped on the workshop, though, was during the evening sessions, which were all business discussions. Remember Ella Distribution? I mentioned them a couple of months ago — they were set up to distribute indie books by small publishers to bookstores. Well, Ella is gone. It was well organized, with an awesome web site, and had great people working on it, but within less than half a year, the industry changed. Now, not only is Ella no longer necessary, but it can’t compete with the big kids on the playground.

Dean and Sheldon McArthur (Shelly’s one of the best known booksellers in the country) talked to us about what’d changed recently with the distributors. Basically, 1) Baker and Taylor no longer marks books as POD published, and Ingram and the others followed suit; 2) B&T (and the others) now offer POD books at a good discount to booksellers, about 45%, and more if they keep on top of their bills; and 3) B&T (and the others) now allow returns on POD books.

There are indie-pubbed books in bookstores right now. If you go through Createspace, and pay the extra $25 for extended distribution, your books are available to bookstores through their standard distributors, on terms that make stocking them attractive. The only barrier right now is your book’s presentation — mainly cover and summary blurb. (Again, does your cover look professional, or does it look amateur?)

The playing field between an indie-pubbed book and a midlist New York published book is now level when it comes to getting into bookstores.

Shelly talked about how he finds books to buy for his store, through the distributor, through publisher catalogs and promotional material, and through sites like Goodreads, where he’ll go to see what books people might be talking about that he hadn’t heard of. He’s been buying indie books ever since the distributors changed their policies. He doesn’t care where a book comes from so long as it’s a good book, professionally presented, and neither do the readers.

Dean and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are talking about this all month on their blogs, in much more detail. As always, there’s good stuff in the comments, too. I highly recommend you read their posts on the subject. (Actually, if you’re a writer I highly recommend you read their blogs all the time. Lots of great stuff there.)

During all this, I had a deadline on the 15th to get a story turned in for an event running in June on Goodreads, and the story I was writing was getting longer and longer and longer…. [headdesk] When I wasn’t futzing with InDesign during the workshop, I was writing, and after I came home I was still writing. I got it done, a 60K word novel that’ll be available on Goodreads some time in June, and as an e-book on Goodreads and ARe some time after that, depending on where it is in the very long list of books the group’s volunteers have to work on. I’ll be doing a paperback version some time after that. (I did a cover for it at the workshop.)

And now I’m back to writing other things.

The business is changing while we sit here. If we stay on top of the changes, and take advantage of them, they’ll work for us. This is a great time to be a writer, and a wonderful time to be indie publishing, or getting into it if you’re not yet.

Angie

February Stuff

I’ve been on the Oregon coast for the last week and a half, doing two workshops back-to-back. It was a grueling experience, as the single workshop I did last year was. And it was awesome, and I’ll definitely be doing it again. I got lots of writing done, and I SOLD A STORY!! Which got the all-caps treatment because it’s my first professional sale, as in more than five cents per word, holy freaking yay!!! πŸ˜€

I’m going to have a story in Fiction River’s anthology How to Save the World, edited by John Helfers. (Scroll down a bit — it’s the second book.) Holy sheep, I’m gonna be in a book with David Gerrold!

I’ve been trying to break into mainstream SF/F for ages, so this is a huge deal for me. I’m still getting this really silly grin on my face whenever I think about it, so I beg pardon of anyone who sees me and thinks o_O about my state of mind. πŸ™‚

I wrote almost 29K words in February, which is good — I’m still well ahead of quota for making my 2013 goal. My wordcount meter says I’m at 27%, so I’m where I was hoping to be at about a week into April. That’s great; I love having padding on my quota. I was hoping for more in February (January was over 35K) but there were several days when I was in the workshop and frantically reading rather than writing. I count those days well spent, though. I also killed my streak, but I was anticipating that, too. No prob; doing an Oregon workshop is one of the better reasons I can think of for having days with no actual writing.

The workshops I did were The Business and Craft of Short Fiction, and the Anthology Workshop. The Antho Workshop is a repeat for me; it’s worth doing over and over, and many writers do. I took a ton of notes, especially at the first one, and learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know before, which is the point. (Wow, a story that’s in a continually extended option with Hollywood can make you a buttload of money, even if they never make the movie!) Great info; it’s going to take a while to absorb it all.

Currently I’m sitting in a hotel room in Portland; I have a flight home at 2:30. I’ll do some writing today, then fall into bed (ten hours last night, still not caught up) and my next Thing To Go To is a dentist’s appointment on Thursday.

Oh, yeah, didn’t blog about that before. :/ So on Wednesday two weeks ago, Jim and I were having dinner at this little cafe across the street. They have these really good ice cream sandwiches — two chocolate chip cookies, made in-house, with in-house ice cream in the middle, then freeze the whole thing. So I was eating my ice cream sandwich when one of my crowns (upper incisor) snapped off at the gum line. πŸ™ Luckily I had a root canal before they put the crown on, so it didn’t hurt; I was just damn startled, and then all ACK!! when I realized what’d happened. And that I was getting on a plane Saturday morning to go to the workshops. [headdesk]

I went to my dentist the next morning and they put in a very fragile, non-functional, temporary tooth-like object, cemented to the teeth to either side on the back. I was warned not to bite anything, and not even to brush. And when your dentist tells you not to brush, you know your fragile dental work is FRAGILE. I was very careful, but it was a bit wiggly within about 24 hours. I had some vague hope that it’d last at least until the second workshop, but no luck; it came out just a bit over three days after having been installed. So I’ve been going just over a week now with this huge gap in my front teeth, and talking a little funny.

I feel like I’m seven again. πŸ˜›

Anyway, this is fixable, although it’s going to be expensive. Civil Service has notoriously lousy dental insurance, and the Pacific Northwest has notoriously expensive dental care, for whatever reason. So the bill for an implant is going to be very large, and our insurance isn’t picking up a dollar of it. This is our tentatively planned cruise for this year, going into my mouth.

I just hope my other crowns last longer. At least I know to stay away from the Market Cafe’s ice cream sandwiches; that was the most expensive dessert I’ve ever eaten, by a couple of orders of magnitude.

Angie

February Stuff

Writing: 13,508 = 5 pts.
Editing: 26,488 = 5 pts.
Beta: 1 novel = 1 pt.
TOTAL: 11 pts.

Koala Challenge 9

I spent most of a week out on the Oregon coast at a writing workshop. Came home physically exhausted and mentally buzzing, because as dead as I was at the end, this was an awesome experience. If you ever have a chance to take one of Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s workshops, do it — they rock.

Angie

January Stuff

Writing

Writing — 6717 words = 2 pts.
Editing — 12,995 words = 2 pts.
Submissions — 3 = 3 pts.
Betaed Novel for Friend — 1 = 1 pt.
TOTAL = 8 pts.

Koala 8

The writing total is pitiful, especially considering how I did October through December. In my own defense, I’ll say that I had TWO laptops in a row get borked out from under me. The first one’s still a doorstop and the second one was only fixed (sort of — it was fixed by turning off the TAP function on the touchpad completely) a few days before the end of the month. Still sucks.

The good news is that the time I spent not writing I spent (among other things) thinking about how the book was going, and I realized that approaching the ending action realistically wasn’t working for me. πŸ˜› I’m usually all about doing things right, but there’s a volcano involved [cough] and the idea that the boys could just sort of magic an about-to-erupt volcano back into stable peace and quiet was pretty boggling. I’ve done some volcano research for this storyline, and I decided that they were able to prevent things from getting any further, but so far as it’d been stirred up already, it still was, and things were going to proceed apace, with tremors and news bulletins and alerts and some eventual lahars hitting a few small communities. Which is what would happen if Mt. Rainier had a significant but not catastrophic (that is, far short of Mount St. Helens) eruption event. Everyone around here has volcano insurance, and there are signs posted in dangerous areas pointing out volcano escape routes to take in case you have to evacuate; there’s plenty of info on what’d likely happen and what people would do.

The problem is that this doesn’t happen all at once, boom, like someone setting off a bomb. I had some other loose ends to clean up, and I did that, while the characters kept an eye and an ear on the volcano news on TV. But still, the wrap on the characters’ active participation in the eruption was the action climax of the book, and I had several chapters written after that, with at least one or two more to go. All of that was, literally, anti-climax from the POV of the built up action/danger thread of the story, and the longer it got, the more draggy it felt. I could just see readers getting bored and impatient.

So I ripped out almost 10K words and decided to handle it differently. They needed to really wrap up the volcano problem right there, and I came up with a way to get it done without giving the characters a ridiculously huge amount of power. Now I still need to wrap up those other threads ASAP, but at least the volcano thing isn’t draaaaaagging out like it was. Once I’ve written to the end, I need to go back and tweak a couple of things I’ve thought of as I’ve progressed, but that shouldn’t take incredibly long. Then it’s into submission and back to work on the next book, the one I did 50K of for NaNo.

Workshop

I also have to write a short story for my upcoming Anthology Workshop; the assignment for that is due any time now, and I’m looking forward to getting it. This should be fun. πŸ™‚

I’m doing one of the workshops Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch put on each year, and I’m pretty excited about it. It runs in early March, and I’ll definitely be blogging about it when I get home. For the anthology workshop, we get a theme assignment in advance (like RSN) and we submit a story for it, as if we were submitting to an antho. When we get to the workshop, several professional anthology editors will tell us whether they’d have bought our story and exactly why or why not. We also have an option to write another story and submit it while at the workshop, and get feedback on that one as well.

This kind of info should be gold, seriously. I’ve been getting a lot of “Good story, well written, not buying it, enjoyed reading it, looking forward to seeing more from you” type rejections in the last year or two, and while they’re an order of magnitude better than the “Thank you for thinking of us but this doesn’t meet our needs” type, it’s still frustrating. I feel like I’m standing right on the threshold, and there’s some key thing I’m missing that’s preventing me from stepping over. I’m hoping to get the information I need to take that step when I do the workshop.

Anthology Listings

Thanks to everyone who answered my questions about “Until Filled” anthologies. Taking feedback from folks in the three places I posted that query, I’ve decided that what I’m going to do is include all the Until Filled anthos in the next posting, in just over a week, with notations showing how long each one has been open (or how long I’ve been aware of it — close enough) and which ones are being dropped. Anyone still interested can bookmark the page the antho call is on, but after this month I’m dropping anything that’s been hanging open with no progress posts from the editor in a year or more. That means no update posts, no update edits on the original post, no replies to comments on the original post, for a year. I think that’s more than reasonable, and feedback indicated that most folks who’d sub to an Until Filled antho at all were less likely to sub to one that’d been hanging for a long time. So one more month to let people bookmark what they want, and then I’m going to prune the listings.

If you’re an editor of an Until Filled anthology and I drop your listing because I missed an update post or something similar, feel free to e-mail me at angiebenedetti AT gmail DOT com with a link to your update. As always, final decisions about what to include on the listing are mine, but if I’ve missed something, I want to know about it. (And note that I always check the Until Filled posts when I’m prepping a new post — if there’s no link to your update on that original post, or if it’s buried somewhere hard to spot, maybe that’s a problem. If you want submissions, especially on older projects, make it easy for writers to find your updates.)

Angie

I’m Back! WorldCon Part 1

WorldCon in Reno was a lot of fun, and one of the best run conventions I’ve attended. I’ve worked almost 50 conventions and conferences, so I can often spot problems from the front of the house. I didn’t spot anything here; even the Masquerade and Hugo Ceremony both started within a few minutes of their scheduled times, which is pretty amazing. πŸ™‚ I got to hang with friends, went to more panels than I usually go to in half a dozen conventions, and generally had a great time.

Jim and I flew in on Tuesday, got our badges, and had the evening free to relax and check out the program schedule before things officially started on Wednesday. We stayed at the Atlantis, the main convention hotel, which is attached to the convention center with a (very very) long skyway. It was quite a hike from our room to the panels and such at the CC, but I was happy not to have to walk outside, where the temperatures were distinctly uncomfortable, especially for someone who’s become acclimated to Seattle weather. Although in contrast with the heat outside, looking out the skyway windows we could see the hills above Reno, and one of them still had snow on it. O_O Wow. Reno itself is about four thousand feet up, so the top of that hill (which is probably a mountain, officially) is probably a mile up or close to it; that must be why the shaded slopes were still snowy. Still, it’s an odd sight in the northern hemisphere in August, especially when one is wishing for more AC.

The first panel I attended was the most useful — Mary Robinette Kowal, who’s a puppeteer and voice actor as well as a writer, did a panel called “Giving an Effective Reading.” It was opposite the Opening Ceremony, but it was a wonderful panel and I’m very glad I went. I thought I had a general idea of reading aloud — I’d done it in school, after all, as I’m sure everyone has — but I was still nervous about my ability to read my own work in front of an audience.

She started with story selection, looking at things like the number of characters, the way the language lends itself to interpretive reading, and making sure your selection is a complete whole, even if it’s a chunk of some larger story. When she got into using the voice like an instrument, Ms. Kowal had us go through a number of exercises, demonstrating different aspects of voice, including things I’d never heard of or thought about, like the placement of your voice — which part of your mouth resonates when you’re speaking. This was very ?? when she first described it, but the results were cool.

The panel was less than an hour long so she sort of rushed through a number of topics, but she has a great collection of posts on reading aloud on her blog. Highly recommended for any writer who might want to read their work to an audience. Hint: Don’t wait till the night before to click through the link. πŸ™‚

That’s a good wrap for now — more next time. [wave]

Angie

Workshop — Queues

I was replying to a comment by Charles on my last post (about the Critique Circle workshop site) and mentioned the queue system. I got into explaining how it all works, but thought others might be interested too.

Stories or chapters you want critiqued get posted to a queue. Each queue is a list of pieces up for critique. How many pieces get put into the new week’s “current” queue depends on a formula based on how many pieces are waiting and how many critiques that queue got last week; the idea is to keep things balanced so pieces move up reasonably fast, but without flooding the current queue so much that the number of critiques per story goes way down.

There are current queues (the pieces up for critique this week) which show when you go right to the queue page; upcoming queues, which is the list of pieces waiting to move into a future current queue; and older queues, which are the archives. The set of public queues include the Newbie Queue, where every new person has to post their first story or chapter, plus a list of genre queues — General, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Women’s/Romance/Chick-Lit, Children’s/YA, Mystery/Suspense/Horror and Erotica.

If you post one of your stories to a queue, the soonest it’ll come up is the next critiquing week, and it might take two or three. You can help it along by doing more critiques on the current stories in that queue, nudging the formula to let more stories out next week, giving yours a better shot at moving up. Your story in particular doesn’t move because you’re critiquing personally, but anyone doing a lot of critiques will make more slots in that queue available next week.

You can also spend more credits (which you accumulate by critiquing) to move your story up, but it takes quite a lot. I was reading the forum and people were talking about spending like 15 or 18 credits to bump their story up to the top of the list, when it only costs 3 to dump it in at the end of the list. I haven’t seen anyone complaining that people who bump their stories are keeping others from progressing normally, though, so I guess they have some sort of mechanism to prevent that.

There are also private queues, which are owned by individuals and are invite-only. A private queue can either let only the owner post and invited members critique, or it can let every member both post and critique. This lets people set up a chosen group of friends to critique their novel or whatever, or a smaller closed workshop group. Members of a private queue can also post to and critique on the public queues, and you can be a member of as many private queues as you want.

I’m probably missing some subtleties or refinements, but I’m pretty sure this is the basics. πŸ™‚

Angie

Workshop

I’ve been missing critiquing recently, so when Stacia Kane mentioned a couple of sites online the other day — one a service to help find crit partners and the other an actual workshop — I checked them out and ended up joining Critique Circle.

It’s only been about a day and a half since I joined, but so far it’s working out well.

The one thing I really liked when I was checking it out was the way it’s organized. You submit a story or a novel chapter to a queue to be critiqued, and a set of stories and chapters becomes available in each queue to be critiqued for a week as currently up for review. (There are also archives where you can choose to critique an older story, or just read to catch up if there’s an interesting Chapter 5 up in the current queue.) You look through what’s up, pick one and write a critique.

There’s no obligation to critique certain stories, or certain people’s stories (although as I look around, there does seem to be some social expectation to give a critique to someone who’s critiqued you, but it’s not a requirement); you can do however many of whichever stories grab you. I’ve always had a hard time in workshops where you’re grouped with four or five people and everyone in the group critiques everyone else’s stories. Inevitably there are stories I’m just not into, and I’m not enthusiastic enough about the some aspect to really enjoy putting three or four or eight hours into dissecting it and making notes on all the parts. Or someone in the group is just not a great writer, but gets offended at criticism, etc. I like being able to choose what I critique. That’s how the RomEx workshop back on GEnie worked, and it was excellent; it’s sort of been my gold standard for workshops ever since, and Critique Circle seems to be hitting it.

I’ve done one critique so far for CC (although it hasn’t been released yet — newbies’ first critiques have to be reviewed by a staffer, which makes sense) and it came out at a little over 7K words, for a story (actually half a story) a little over 3K words. That’s always been fairly standard for me, unless I’m critiquing one of those rare writers whose manuscript is just that clean, which has only happened once or twice. I did an inline critique, where you leave comments under specific paragraphs so it’s very clear to the writer exactly what bit you’re talking about; there are also blocks before and after the story for leaving more general comments. I started the critique in the afternoon, left off when my husband came home (leaving the critique screen up on my computer), then finished the next day. The system logged me off at some point while I was AFK, and when I sat down again and started working, I got a message that the auto-save (which kicks in like every minute) had failed and that I needed to log in. It did not blank the screen, take me to a log-in window, or lose the typing I’d done in the previous minute; I was able to open a new window, log in there, then go back to the critique window and keep working. This is a brilliant system and every site where you have to be logged in to do any kind of work (even if it’s just typing a forum post) should work this way.

CC works on a credit system, where you need a certain number of earned credits (although they start you out with two when you join) to post a story or chapter, and you earn credits by critiquing. Depending on the length of the story you critique and the length of your critique, you can earn between .5 and 1.5 credits for a critique. It takes three credits to post, and more to post another if you already have one in the queue, so the system requires people to critique more than they post. As it works out, looking at the older queues, stories seem to get an average of about half a dozen critiques each, which is pretty awesome. I’ve seen a few that only got two or three (which would still be pretty good for most workshops, not counting the you-WILL-critique-everyone groups; I’ve been in some that only promised one, and sometimes only delivered one) and quite a few have gotten ten or more.

I have to say, though, that most of the critiques are incredibly short. I’ve browsed through some of the archives and for the most part the comments are specific and useful, but still, the average critique length seems to be about four or five hundred words, which…. Well, yeah. Still, if you get six or eight of them, that adds up to quite a lot of feedback.

One thing I’m not crazy about is that the site uses a wierd, square-bracket-based markup system I’ve only seen on one other forum. I’ve gotten used to it for forum posts, but in order to take full advantage of the site features (like getting in-line comments on your story) you need to use this system for your posted stories too. :/ I posted the first chapter of my urban fantasy novel to the workshop yesterday and went through changing the italic text to use [i]italic[/i] markup. There were only a few instances so it wasn’t unbearably annoying, but not for the first time I’m wondering who came up with this system and why they decided they just had to invent something different when HTML is around and most people online know at least the simplest basics, like italics. [sigh] And for a serious writing workshop, editors don’t want the HTML either, much less some odd forum system, so even if they didn’t make you learn something new, you’d still have to go in and change all your mark-ups to post. I’m hoping there’s actually a technical reason why we can’t paste text with inherent italics in, because it’s definitely inconvenient to have to convert everything for posting. Ideally, the workshop should accept the format that editors want to see too, so manuscripts files can go straight back and forth.

There are some neat side features on the site too, though, like a tracking system for your submissions (to markets, not the workshop), a name generator, a reminder system that lets you set up alerts for whatever you want, and a manuscript progress tool, among others. I haven’t tried any of them yet, but it’s cool that the site has a lot of little extras like that; it’ll be fun to poke around and see what’s here and how things work.

At this point I’m generally happy with the site. Everyone I’ve interacted with has been very friendly and helpful. This feels like a good place and I’m looking forward to being here for a long while.

Angie